Tuesday 21 November 2017

Teak-tough tacklers as rare as hen's teeth

Dave Devereux

Roy Keane wasn't averse to a tough tackle
Roy Keane wasn't averse to a tough tackle

Soccer may be known as the beautiful game but it's definitely not always that way.

You might drool like a slobbering Saint Bernard over the dribbling skills and ball control of Messi, or the tricks of Ronaldo might cause you to ooh and ah like the audience at a David Blaine show, but without a certain type of player these fancy dans wouldn't get the space to display their sublime skills.

Marquee duo Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy may have combined for Leicester's winner against Crystal Palace and stolen the headlines for most of the season, but with the winning line in sight the pressure will increasingly fall on the likes of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth as the Foxes try to eke out 1-0 wins, and on Saturday's evidence they're up to the task.

Morgan and Huth are definitely a teak-tough, no-nonsense central defensive pairing but there certainly is a dearth of old-fashioned hard men in the modern game.

It seems as good a time as any to salute these unsung heroes, the players that make you wince at the sight of them on the horizon.

It's blindingly obvious that the current crop aren't especially robust given the way most of them roll about like a free-wheeling bowling ball, and the days of real combative midfielders like Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira seem long gone. How Man United and Arsenal would love to have those two in their prime right now.

But if you really want tacklers with more bite than a Pit Bull you should go back to the '70s and '80s, when players had nicknames like 'Beast' and 'Chopper' - and with very good reason.

While I'm feeling all nostalgic I thought I'd put together a team of all-time hard men that would have their opponents quaking in their boots before they enter the stadium, let alone cross the white line in the heat of battle.

The goalkeeper is an easy choice - Harald Schumacher, the German netminder who is infamous for his tackle on Patrick Battiston in the 1982 World Cup semi-final, which well and truly poleaxed the French man. Unbelievably, he didn't even get a yellow card for the atrocious offence.

In defence the first name on the teamsheet is Brian 'Killer' Kilcline.

One wild look from the long-haired defender, who played for Coventry, Newcastle and Swindon during his career, and strikers would wither like a thirsty daffodil.

He'd often prefer a diving header to a volley, even for a ball that was less than a yard off the ground.

Lion-hearted English centre-half Terry Butcher is another certainty for the back four.

The Ipswich man famously ended a game in Sweden with a blood-soaked shirt as he battled on for the England cause.

Former Spanish international Miguel Angel Nadal also makes it into the hard as nails defence - his nickname, 'The Beast of Barcelona', says all you need to know really.

Italian defender Marco Materazzi also claims a place in the scary eleven. The Inter Milan player, who also had a spell at Everton, was never afraid of a challenge and famously riled Zinedine Zidane into his charging bull impersonation in the World Cup final.

There's an embarrassment of rough and ready riches to choose from in the midfield sector.

Graeme Souness was a no frills, hard-tackling player and would send a shiver of fear down the spines of the current crop of Premier League stars.

You mightn't think to look at him now with his mild manner in the pundit's chair, but Johnny Giles certainly knew how to look after himself on the football field and gets a spot alongside fellow analyst Souness in the engine room, mainly to add a bit of skill and finesse to the side. 'The Anfield Iron', Tommy Smith, also takes his place. If Smith tackled you, you knew all about it.

Roy Keane has to be included in the eleven, for his always in your face style and his intense stare, not to mention the villainous tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland.

In the forward line you couldn't overlook Duncan Ferguson, who was prone to losing the head and did some jail time to prove it.

His partner in crime up front would have to be Eric Cantona, with his kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan and his stamp on John Moncur of Swindon worthy of a place in this unsavoury line-up.

Our substitutes' bench wouldn't be for the faint-hearted either, with goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, who played on with a broken neck, Norman 'Bite Yer Legs' Hunter, Ron 'Chopper' Harris, Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce and Andoni 'The Butcher of Bilboa' Goikoetxea ready to take to the fray, like raging bulls at the wave of a red flag.

Unfortunately, in the modern game incredibly irritating players that look well capable of looking after themselves fall over like they have been shot when you blow at them - the real hard men of the past would be embarrassed by such antics.

If they fell on their backside you knew someone had put them there, whether it be by fair or foul means, and they'd be back on their feet quicker than a red card could be pulled from a referee's pocket.

Wexford People

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